A group created to foster the financial independence of north Minneapolis residents has revived an effort to create the first Black-led credit union on the North Side.
The Association for Black Economic Power (ABEP) has brought on new staff and board members to bring to fruition Village Financial Cooperative and is seeking $6 million from the city to get it off the ground.
"The credit union has the potential to be a source of hope, a source of pride, and just a new beginning," said Debra Hurston, ABEP's new executive director. "And I just think the community deserves to know that their original mission has not been abandoned."
ABEP leaders said they have found a prospective site at 927 W. Broadway and that they would need up to $20 million to start the credit union by the end of next year. ABEP's new board chair, Valerie Geaither, said any funding from the city would go toward the initial build-out of the space and operating cost for the first year.
The space will also feature a community center where people can connect and get financial education. But until then, Village Financial will have an online presence and a small footprint in the ABEP office.
"People need to know that if this is going to happen, we really need the city's backing," Geaither said. "[The north Minneapolis] community deserves this."
A spokesman for the city said the proposal is being reviewed.
The idea for a Black-led financial institution emerged in 2016 after a St. Anthony police officer killed Philando Castile. The following year, ABEP was founded with the goal of supporting Black residents in Minneapolis by providing an alternative to payday loan companies and check-cashing services.
The organization appeared to be on good footing when it secured its state charter in 2019 and was well on its way to getting insurance to launch Village Financial. But the community-led effort fell apart that year after the organization ousted its former executive director Me'Lea Connelly and former CFO Joe Riemann over allegations of fraud and mismanagement of funds.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce voided ABEP's license to operate a credit union, Hurston said. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension's Financial Crimes Unit investigated Connelly and Riemann and closed the case without filing charges, said a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
Mayor Jacob Frey extended his support to ABEP then and vowed to help the organization fulfill its mission. Hurston said their drive to bring this effort to fruition and the mayor's commitment to help hasn't changed, noting the challenges ABEP experienced is not uncommon.
Frey's office said the mayor still supports the vision of a Black-led credit union and "believes it would be a great stride towards economic inclusion and the creation of opportunities to expand capital investments and community-led financial institutions on the North Side."
The biggest tasks for ABEP leaders are getting its license back, restoring trust with the community and obtaining insurance from the National Credit Union Administration, Hurston said.
"No one wants to establish or support an entity that's going to die off the vine before it gets started and so the heavier lift comes in demonstrating how we intend to survive," she said. "And the current board and I are just not coming off of this until we get it done."
Hurston says the work of launching a Black-led credit union is personal. Growing up poor on the South Side of Chicago, she watched her mother struggle to get a loan to start a business. The racial wealth gap in north Minneapolis reminds her of her family's yearning to catch up, she said.
"What's going on right now in north Minneapolis needs to stop," Hurston said. "This, for me, is a long, tough moment, but if I didn't try, I would never forgive myself."
Faiza Mahamud • 612-673-4203